"ABBA Voyage": Behind the Scenes of the Record-Breaking Digital Concert

“ABBA Voyage”: Behind the Scenes of the Record-Breaking Digital Concert

Over 700 “concerts” in two years, at the rate of 7 concerts a week, two a day on the weekend: the avatars, or rather the Abbatars, never get tired, they never lose their voice, their performance is always perfect. “ABBA Voyage” debuted at the end of May 2022 and in two years it has become one of London's main attractions: the sixth, to be precise, producers Ludvig Andersson and Svana Gisla proudly tell me. The ABBA arena – 3000 people – is practically always sold out: over 200,000 people have seen the show.
The words (and also the images that we publish in this article) do not convey the idea of ​​the show.

It is a concert, a digital musical, a video clip, a film: “ABBA Voyage” is all these things together and none of these. They are not holograms but digital reproductions of .ABBA, as they were in the 70s, projected on a screen: they sing with a real band of 10 musicians playing live. All in a purpose-built venue in the east of London: a normal structure cannot contain such a technological show. The screens and lights envelop the spectators – who come from all over the world to dance and sing – with a unique immersive effect, which makes them forget that there are no people on stage.
A model of union between software – the songs, videos, avatars – and hardware – the arena – which makes ABBA Voyage a non-replicable model for other artists: in short: in the future we will not see other bands return digitally to the stage, at least not like ABBA. Who are still alive and actively contributed to the project: “Everything is theirs: from the songs to the performance, to the arena to the bottles that are sold at the bar.” The only way to respond, the producers explain, is to take this show around by building other similar buildings: “Do you know anyone who is interested in Italy”?, they joke. But, they insist, “ABBA Voyage” is a concert. “As you've never seen it before”, as the slogan around London says.
Here's how it was designed and how it works.

The ABBAtars

“It has always been planned as a concert and I think it is one in every aspect”, explains Andersson, connecting from Sweden. “They are not holograms: at the beginning we kept specifying that the definition is wrong, now we are a bit there get fed up and just let it go,” says Svana Gisla. “Holograms have a bad reputation, they look like something sinister, made without people,” adds Andersson. “It all started with Tupac or Whitney Houston, whereas ABBA is alive and actually made the show with us.”
The technology behind “ABBA Voyage” is not new: it is the motion capture. 5 weeks of filming with ABBA filmed while they sing and move, with suits used to digitize their movements, then recreated on figures of themselves, but in the 70s: forever young, to paraphrase Dylan. All developed by Industrial Light And Magic founded by George Lucas: “It's not even a copyrighted technology, but it's unprecedented in form and extension: if you talk to them they'll tell you that this was the biggest project they've ever worked on. never worked, more than Star Wars”.

“What we wanted to convey was emotion,” Andersson continues. “We didn't want to impress with technology: holograms weren't needed for our objectives. Everything you see and hear in 'ABBA Voyage' has passed through the filter of those four people. It's not like we just threw some stuff together and called it ABBA: Voyage is what they wanted to do.”

The ABBA Arena

Rest assured: “ABBA Voyage” is not the future of live, although there is often discussion about how to use holograms to commercially exploit the branding and popularity of major artists who can't (or don't want to) take the stage anymore. If the first reason is the direct involvement of ABBA – who are alive and therefore vouch for their ABBAtars – the second is equally important: the place.
“The ABBA Arena,” explains Svana Gisla, “is probably the most advanced musical performance space there is.”

It was designed as the only hardware that can make this show work: a screen that also envelops the spectators at the sides, but which seems essentially absent, thanks also to the video and lighting direction. “The planning of the show took off when we realized that our ambitions and vision required the design of an original space.” “We knew that on May 27, 2022 there would be 3,000 people at the door of a stadium we hadn't yet built to see a show we hadn't yet created. I didn't think about it too much and it was lucky.”
The ABBA Arena is built on land rented by the city of London: for now, performances are scheduled until 2025. But, explains Svana Gisla, the production is in continuous negotiations with the municipality for the renewal and prolongation of everything – also seen the employment that “ABBA Voyage” generates in the area.


There is a plan, however: to take “ABBA Voyage” on tour: “Building new arenas is the only way to do it. We are working hard with many people to try to make this dream come true. So if there is someone in Italy crazy enough to want to build an ABBA arena, he can just call us… ”, smiles Svana Gisla.

The audience and the songs

“The audience is the secret ingredient: the energy they transmit to the show is enormous”, explains Gisla again. “The ABBA Arena was designed to hold 3000 people, with a standing audience specifically designed for dancing, together with a series of “dancing booths” (small skyboxes), alongside the traditional seats. The audience dances and sings like to a traditional concert or a musical (even if there is someone who watches everything as if they were at the cinema, with drinks and popcorn).


But the songs and one of the most well-known repertoires of pop music are what really make the show: all the most famous ones are there, there is a band that plays the instrumental and backing vocals parts, live.

Andersson doesn't say too much about ABBA's voices which should be partly those of the original recordings, partly new recordings: “Who knows?”, he smiles. And the two explain that the show could be updated in the future “ABBA had more than 60 hits and we only used 21, so why not continue? We don't have anything new available now, but I say that if people want to continue coming, we will continue working”, they explain. A recording project linked to “ABBA Voyage” could also be released – but with a form to be defined, for now there is nothing in the pipeline.

Because it works

What is certain is that “ABBA Voyage” also works because one doesn't really know what to expect: unlike a traditional concert, photos and videos are strictly forbidden (the ones we publish are the only official ones released). “One of the reasons is that we want people to be present in the moment, without distractions,” explains Svana Gisla.”! The second reason is that the show does not render in photos and videos taken with the smartphone. It was not made to be filmed, but to be experienced, with a bit of mystery”.

The fact is that “ABBA Voyage” – I can attest to this having seen it in person – is a truly unique experience, starting from the arrival and waiting in the wooden lounge of the arena (which is a bit reminiscent of Ikea, but it will be a suggestion). The ABBA logo appears everywhere, even on water bottles, while the bright corridors leading to the theater look like art installations. The show turns heads: two hours of pure entertainment in which you find yourself applauding and singing to someone who isn't there.
It is not the future of the concert, and the producers themselves confirm it.

But it is a show that shows the complexity of the word “live”: and if you think that a traditional concert is better because everything is live, remember that many real artists who say they do everything live often make abundant use of pre-recorded backing tracks .
“ABBA Voyage” shows how far an immersive production made of music and images can go: if you pass through London, it is worth the price of the ticket.

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